An intensified whistling told them that the pursuer had probably noticed the same as them. The whirling disc made another two passes, one of which Kindon had to expend a lot of energy to deflect. The green barriers that the captain could erect around him shattered, and the green-skinned man went as pale as a ghost.
“I won’t… be able to do… that again,” the captain gasped, blood seeping from his mouth.
When they were only a few meters from the chasm, the pursuer finally revealed itself. Ares looked over his shoulder and saw a humanoid shape jumping out from the shadows and onto the path, just as it threw the whistling disc at them.
This time, though, the disc did not come straight at them. Instead, it described and arc, passing around and in front of them. “Stop!” Ares called, and the company stopped; the disc whirling just past their noses in front. He was just about to call them into a sprint again, when he saw a second disc come flying straight for them.
The damn thing had two of these?!
Growling, Ares raised his right arm and revealed the blaster and tried shooting the disc down. Without having [Ranged Combat] equipped, though, his aim was less than desirable. His first two rapid shots missed, and his third, charged shot barely glanced the disc. Seeing no way out, he once again used the whip to deflect the blow.
“Run!” He roared, as his whip connected, and he once more sustained heavy damage to his inner systems.
The group followed his command, and were soon onto the connector. Saber was the quickest, and danced across the beam with no difficulty even with Alai slung over his shoulder. Cedwin came after him, a little hesitant, but Kindon quickly got him moving.
Only the captain and Izzy remained on Ares’ side of the connector. After deflecting the attacks, Ares sprinted the last way to them, calling for them to go over. They reluctantly obliged him, passing the beam to the other side, where they soon turned and followed his flight.
Ares could feel the burning sensation of the attacker’s red eyed on his back. The whistling in the air told him another attack was incoming, but he had neither time nor the energy to do anything about it. His feet met the metallic surface of the connector, while the buzzing in the air grew to an incredible degree.
He saw the eyes of all the party members grow wide, saw them open their mouths in warning, saw everything while the world around him turned into slow-motion.
He looked to one side and saw a disc coming at his head. He looked to the other side and saw a disc coming at his legs. Using all the available energy he could expend, Ares jumped and twisted. In that instant, he knew it would not be enough.
He threw Seila towards Kindon, disregarding anything else. He flew through the air; one disc passing above him, one disc passing below him. In the moment their shapes aligned, a thunderstorm of electricity passed between them, passing through Ares like a thousand bolts, momentarily turning his vision completely dark.
He felt himself land upon the connector and skid along in, blindly grasping a hold when he felt himself falling to one side. The entire world was a mess of static, white noise, and a single, very loud tone.
As his vision began normalizing again, he was relieved to find Seila’s unconscious body in Kindon’s arms. Ares, himself, was hanging onto the connector with all of his might, and it took all of his remaining strength to get back up.
A buzzing in his head. White noise, more static. A loud beep that kept every outside noise from entering his skull. Then the semblance of a voice. Someone talking, desperately so. His vision blurred again. He tried to gain his feet, failed once, then twice. The third time he got up, raising his head to face his inevitable doom.
Walking carefully towards the connector, the opponent had finally revealed itself fully. He had been too occupied by the attacks to study the humanoid shape, but now Ares recognized it. Not because he recognized its face; it wore a metallic mask without a single facial feature edged into it, apart from two eye-holes revealing deep and sinister red. Not because he recognized its bearing, clothing, or form, but because he recognized that feeling he got from it.
It was like him… and yet, it was nothing like him.
“Kertal,” he growled, silvery liquid flowing out the side of his mouth.
The attacker halted its steps, studying him, it seemed. Wild dark and curly hair stood out around the metallic mask, dirty and frayed. It wore nothing apart from a loose tunic, and in either hand it carried a large ring.
Without hesitation, Ares popped in a third core into his mouth, crushing it and forcing it to become his energy source. There was no escape now. Only the fight.
“Prriiiime,” a bestial, guttural sound escaped from behind the metallic mask.
A buzz of static assaulted his head, then he heard Orca’s distant voice, saying, “Mast.. Can you hea…?”
‘I can hear you, Orca,’ he said, calm descending upon his mind. The task ahead would be simple. Difficult in execution, sure, but simple in nature.
“Oh… goo.. Listen, yo.. to run. It.. in the syste… I’m trying… fight it, but…”
Her voice trickled out, fading away as if caught by a mental wind. Orca was fighting her battle, and he would have to fight his.
The opponent walked slowly forward, swayed, then charged with incredible speed. The rings in its hands ignited with electricity, as it jumped upon the connector and closed in.
Ares met the charge with [Edge], both hands turned into weapons. Electricity coarsed through him, splitting him apart. The whistling turned into a melody, then a chorus, as he met the attacks blow for blow. He had no idea how he was keeping on his feet. He did not care.
Returning his left hand to normal, he unfurled his whip and attacked, using his control to circumvent the opponent’s defenses. The kertal whirled around, slashing his measly attacks away with the huge rings, then hit him in the chest with a frontal kick.
He staggered backwards, out of balance, falling onto one knee. Instead of charging in closer, the kertal jumped backwards, avoiding an arrow shot by Cedwin, and threw a disc after Ares. He had no way to avoid it and did not have enough control to deflect.
“No,” someone shouted. He heard a burst, then saw the disc bounce off a translucent barrier in front of him. Izzy had jumped up to his side and thrown the last barrier down.
“Can you stand, Ares?”
He nodded and got up. The disc whirled back to its master, who deftly caught it out of the air. He met the red eyes, knowing how bad he must look. The trauma to his inner systems was extensive. He had no need of the console to tell him how badly damaged he was, and even less for Izzy’s fuzzing about.
“Get back,” he said, trying to look as if he had all of this under control.
“Get. Back.” He looked down at her; his golden eyes blazing with command.
“No. You need help, Ares.” She said, as she heftet her monkey wrench.
He had little time to argue. For the moment, the barrier blocked the opponent and kept him and the party behind safe. If she wanted to die that much, Ares could do nothing but oblige her.
A slight rumble in the surrounding area marked their chance. “I will block,” he finally said, popping another core into his mouth, “You find chance to hit.”
She nodded. The barrier spluttered out of existence. Instead of waiting for the other, Ares charged. Spinning in the air, he threw the whip like a spear, hardening the tip for maximum damage. The kertal dismissed the attack with a sweep of one ring, then sent the other straight at him.
While the connector forced the opponent into this narrow passage, it also meant Ares had little room to maneuver. He slid beneath it, feeling the buzzing electricity as it passed above. Izzy barely had to duck to avoid it.
Of course, now the danger was behind. He ignored it, storming the kertal just as the connector began moving. He had been waiting for this. The opponent stumbled slightly; not enough for it to fall, but enough for an opening.
Careful not to draw any energy from the lifelink, Ares activated [Mana Rift] employing whatever shreds of energy remained from crushing cores. The crack within him opened, as the unit guided mana into his right hand. He got in close. The kertal swung the ring in its hand while it was regaining its balance.
He slashed! A massive tear opened right through the ring, splitting it apart.
The red eyes burned with surprise, giving Ares another opportunity. He had not put a lot of mana into the rift, and so it quickly spluttered out of existence, allowing him to grab the kertal by the throat, lifting him up. Throwing the opponent over the side was tempting, but Ares knew there was a greater danger he had to avert first.
With a firm grip, Ares twisted and used the kertal to block the ring he had just thrown. The disc collided with such force into the chest of the kertal that they were both thrown backwards. Beneath them, the connector picked up more speed, its movement causing them both to skid out over the side and down towards the depths.
“Ares!” Izzy yelled, jumping forward and extending her wrench towards him. It was foolish, of course, the little gnome had no chance of holding his weight. Ares used [Edge] upon his fingers to grab a hold on the smooth surface. He felt cold hands grabbing his leg and looked down.
Red eyes met him from below, as the kertal held onto him with one hand, while dislodging the ring from its chest with the other. He understood it would take him down with it, if he gave it the opportunity.
Kicking, he tried to get rid of it, but it would not budge. Arrows from Cedwin pierced into its side, but it ignored everything. It appeared completely impervious to any and all damage.
“Pull it up, I’ll hammer its hand to pieces!” Izzy yelled, and Ares really had no better idea. He had only enough energy left for another minute or two like this. Growling, he fought his way upwards, until Izzy could just about hit it with her wrench.
Too late, he recognized the danger, as the kertal stopped pulling at the ring on its chest, and instead pulled itself up and grabbed a hold of the wrench. Izzy was so surprised she reacted by holding fast and pulling. It was the wrong move.
With superior strength, the kertal threw Izzy over the edge, down into the depths. Knowing how futile it was, Ares released his left hand and cast out his whip. With his control, he just about managed to catch Izzy, but he instantly lost his grip and slipped a few inches. His fingers dug in again, but he knew it was only a matter of time now before he had to let go.
There were triumph in those red eyes, looking up at him from above, as the kertal at last pulled out the ring, preparing it for a final strike. Right then, a fireball hit it straight in the face.
Surprised, Ares looked over to the other bank, where the rest of the party stood, unable to get onto the moving connector. There, he saw the fragile shape of Seila stand, arm extended.
“Don’t you dare… touch my construct,” She proclaimed, her voice too weak to carry the determination he felt through their bond. She threw another fireball, while Cedwin sent another arrow flying.
The kertal blocked the attacks with the ring, leaving Ares alone for the moment.
“And you, Construct, don’t you dare let go,” his mistress commanded. It was useless, though; his energy was running out. She might look as if she had recovered, but the lifelink told him a different story. She was currently putting her life at risk, expending the last vestiges of energy.
I’m sorry, he said, imposing the thought onto their link, and saw the result on Seila’s face.
“No!” She screamed, and fired off another fireball, “Don’t you dare let go; don’t let go!”
Her command stifled his system, stopping his free will. This would not do.
A command has been issued through lifelink
Disobeying the order will break lifelink contract
Do you wish to proceed?
Once more, he was making the stupid move. There was nothing for it, though. With a silent command, he broke the contract, shattering their lifelink.
“What.. no, no! You can’t do this!”
Seila stumbled backwards. Even from a distance, he could see her face turn ashen. As the last vestiges of energy began to evaporate, Ares dismissed [Edge], and let himself fall, just as the kertal moved to attack him with the ring, once and for all.
It rattled off a laughter, as it knew itself to be victorious, but Ares ignored it. The only thing he cared for now was the overwhelming desire to protect he had unearthed. He had no energy left to fling Izzy up over the edge. All he could do, as they feel into the depths, was pulling in the little gnome, cradling her in his arms, hoping it would be enough to save her.
“ARES!” The sound of his former mistress finally calling him by name was sweet music to his ears as he fell.
Once more, into the abyss.